A Day Trip to California’s Most Colorful Mountain

*Story & images by Kathryn McLamb

If you’ve made the drive across the arid desert of Southern California, then you know it can be quite a monochromatic experience. Think: warm, earth tones spanning deserted flat lands as far as the eye can see. But just when you think your eyes might possibly glaze over, you start seeing riots of vibrant colors soaring into the sky.

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ursts of bright blues, fiery reds, and golden yellows lure you closer. Letting your pulsing curiosity take the lead, you then pass through the gates of the off-the-grid neighborhood Slab City, and you hesitantly follow a long, weaving dirt road. Despite the urge to turn around in fear of being lost, you drive a little further and are soon welcomed by radiant hues and biblical messages. Ah, finally — you have arrived to the ever-so-lovely candy-colored wonderland known as Salvation Mountainsalvation-mountain-california-weekend-3

WHO MADE THE SALVATION MOUNTAIN, ACTUALLY?

It is the vision behind this man-made mountain that makes this isolated piece of the desert such a phenomenon.

The mastermind behind this masterpiece, Leonard Knight, came to this secluded area in 1986 with one vision in mind — to spread the simple yet powerful message: “God is love.” While it took 28 years to completely build the mountain from scratch — along with thousands of hay bales, countless buckets of adobe clay, and more than half a million gallons of paint — it was Leonard’s unwavering faith that kept him motivated.

Even after the 50-foot mountain was created, in Leonard’s mind, his work was anything but complete. In fact, he dedicated the rest of his life to spreading God’s word. By living on site, he continuously added new sculptures and messages to the mountain daily, all while welcoming any new visitors and touring them around his creation.

Although Leonard passed away in 2014 at the age of 82, there is no doubt he built quite the following in the art community. A charming man full of love and compassion, he most certainly will always be remembered.

TOURING SALVATION MOUNTAIN

Touring Salvation Mountain is quite the experience, and such a surreal moment. Standing on the ground-level of the mountain, you’ll instantly be enveloped with love as you take in all the beautiful works of art.

From the calming shades of blue in the “Sea of Galilee” at the bottom, to the yellow brick road leading up to the white cross perched high at the top, this mountain is one of those unique places in the world that everyone needs to see in person to fully appreciate the emotion behind this project. The repeated theme of “love” is absolutely everywhere.

And with sculptures of flowers, trees, birds, suns, waterfalls and other fascinating, colorful objects, the remarkable tribute to God is at every corner, illuminating happiness and positivity. 

Our contributor, Kathryn, in front of the colorful backdrop that is Salvation Mountain. 

IT’S FOR FREE

While it might be hard to believe, touring the mountain is free. Even when Leonard was alive, he was very adamant not to charge anything to visits. While donations are welcomed and much appreciated, they do not have to be in monetary form. Visitors are encouraged to bring along cans of paint to go toward the continuation of this project. 

GETTING THERE

Although the mountain is in a secluded pocket of the desert, getting here is surprisingly simple. Whether you’re coming from Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, LA, or even San Diego, this destination is perfect for a day trip, as it’s only a few hours’ drive from either direction. You can find step-by-step instructions on arriving here.

GOOD EATS AROUND THE SALVATION MOUNTAIN

While there isn’t too much of a food scene around Salvation Mountain — given the fact this colorful wonderland is smack in the middle of the desert — there are still a couple of scrumptious pit-stops you can make if you’re looking for a tasty meal. Buckshot Deli & Diner offers a wide selection of fresh, comfort food at very affordable prices. You can find a delicious cheeseburger stacked high with any toppings you can imagine and hot, crispy french fries at the Queen Bee Cafe. And if you’re craving something sweet, head over to Donut Avenue for warm glazed donuts! Only make sure you have enough water with you, remember it’s still a desert out there. 

OVERALL TAKEAWAY

If you’re seeking an uplifting, inspirational, Instagram-worthy adventure, this colorful mountain is the way to go!

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